A campaign encouraging employers to offer more ‘flexible lunch breaks’ to their staff has won the backing of the county sports partnership in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin.
Energize says it enthusiastically welcomes the new initiative, prompted by a report claiming the culture of not taking a lunch break is damaging the nation’s health.
The ‘Manifesto For A Flexible Lunch Break’ has been published by physical activity champions at the CSP Network, and backed by research from the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health.
It calls on employers to consider requests for people to start work a little earlier or leave a little later, with a longer lunch break during the day, factoring in access to daylight and active social times.
It also recommends more proactive promotion of workplace activity, such as employee noticeboards, fitness classes, social walks, runs and cycle rides, as well as stronger collaboration between local businesses and sports coaches, clubs and facilities.
Chris Child, chief executive of Energize, based at University Centre Shrewsbury, in Frankwell Quay, said: “Research shows that an active employee takes less sick leave – and if we could just cut one sickness day per person a year, we would save businesses across England an estimated £2.8 billion.
“There is no doubt that, here in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin just like other parts of the UK, a lack of flexible working practices is proving to be a barrier to a more active lifestyle.
“The current culture of working through the lunch break is seen as a deterrent for people to get active during the lightest and brightest part of the day.
“We are already working with local employers who have identified employee health and wellbeing as a priority, and recognise that a physically active workforce improves wellbeing, reduces absenteeism and increases productivity.
”That is why we held a conference a few weeks ago, showing companies how to ‘energize’ their workforce.
“We recognise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue, but we’d be delighted to offer free workplace consultations to help local businesses develop solutions which meet their specific needs.”
The manifesto draws on two years of research, including survey data and interviews with people engaged in ‘Workplace Challenge’ – a free online tool used by over 45,000 workers to log their physical activity.
Mr Child said: “A British Heart Foundation evaluation of the Workplace Challenge has demonstrated that an active employee, on average, takes one less sick day per year – so encouraging an active lunch break has tangible economic benefits for employers.
“However, in recession-hit years, there has been greater pressure placed on employees to take shorter lunch breaks, or no break at all, leading to some feeling chained to their desks and – worse still – feeling frowned upon or overlooked for promotion if they choose to get their trainers on or go for a walk at lunchtime.
“Others struggle to fit exercise alongside valuable ‘catch up’ time with colleagues into their prescribed hour-long break. This places the UK’s workforce at a distinct disadvantage when compared to our European counterparts, who have a longer ‘siesta time’ to exercise.”
The research found that those who adopted a more active lifestyle were seen not only to reduce the number of days they took as sick leave, but also spent far less time being at work, despite being sick.
The average number of sick days taken has risen to 5.31 per person per year, costing business a total of £14.9 billion in lost working days.
Public Health England estimates that more than four out of 10 adults do not do enough physical activity to achieve good health and with 60% of people’s waking hours spent at work, employees are being left with few options for improving their health outside of the working day.
Lee Mason, Chief Executive of the CSP Network said: “We now have compelling evidence to suggest that a shake-up of the workplace culture is needed to drive the health of the nation.
“With 73.6% of 16-64 year olds in work, and such a large proportion of people working throughout daylight hours, decisive action must now be taken to embed a culture of activity across workplaces.”